Starbucks has made history by opening their first American Sign Language store in the US, where all employees are deaf or hearing impaired and can communicate in ASL. Starbucks chose the location based on its proximity to Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., the world’s only liberal arts college for the deaf and hard of hearing. The store has features to make the experience for people in the deaf community easy and comfortable.
The first sign that this isn’t your typical Starbucks are the umbrellas lining the sidewalks outside the store. They use ASL letters to sign out the company’s name. When you walk in the store you won’t hear the Starbucks signature background music, but rather see a space designed specifically to aid people in the deaf community. Things like low chairs and tables to help visibility, and matte surfaces to reduce glare. At the cash registers you’ll find employees fluent in ASL and two way keyboards for typed conversations. To pick up your drink, look for your name on a TV monitor. The store was modeled after Starbuck’s first signing store, which opened in Malaysia in 2016. The store was opened to bring the Starbucks service and quality, that so many people love, to the deaf and hard of hearing community.
“Starbucks has taken an innovative approach to incorporating deaf culture that will increase employment opportunities as well as accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people, while at the same time education and enlightening society,” says Howard Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf. The store employs ASL signers from across the country, but many students from the Gallaudet University as well. Baristas at the store wear ASL aprons embroidered by a deaf supplier and “I Sign” pins.
The store wasn’t made for only hard of hearing customers, but rather as a place for people of all hearing backgrounds to come together. Kristen Schofield, a writer who lives near the store, told CNN “I think this might be a good place for people to get exposure to ASL and deaf culture and interface with their neighbors in an easy way.” Many people are being exposed to ASL culture and it has created an interest in learning sign language. The DC public library system offers free ASL classes to those interested. Schofield took one after seeing a flier and plans to order her first drink at the store in ASL.
The opening of the store has created a gathering place for members of every community to be learn about deaf culture, or to meet new people through signing. “I want to invite people into our world,” says Kyle Garcia, a deaf barista, “We can share a cup of coffee here,”.